Moffat County History: Martin Lukas: A Bohemian homesteader
November 21, 2009
The stories of Craig and Moffat County's history written for this series in 2009 are made possible through a generous grant from the Kenneth Kendall King Foundation to the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
The sight of crumbling homestead remains in lonely spots across Northwest Colorado conjures up questions and imaginings about the people who lived there.
On a piece of land several miles north of Maybell, off Moffat County Road 19, sit the sagging walls of a homestead that was a bit different in its construction from most.
Instead of log walls, the buildings that made up the Lukas homestead were built from field stones, gathered and mortared into a home and outbuildings. The sod roofs were held up by strong supports impervious to weather.
Martin Lukas was born in Austria on Nov. 22, 1871.
As a young man, he booked passage on the steamer "Saale" in Bremen, Germany to head west to the new frontiers of America. He arrived in New York City on Dec. 8 of that year and began his cross country trek.
He took five years to get as far as Illinois, where he took a bride, Katharina, in 1895.
When some families arrived in America, they settled in and spent decades or even hundreds of years within a relatively small area, but others crisscrossed the land, looking for that special place where they could own land and settle down.
Lukas was one of the latter.
By 1900, he and his wife had moved to Wisconsin, to the Township of Eau Pleine. Their family had grown to four with a son, Ladislaus, and a daughter, Marie.
Katharina died in 1904, the same year their youngest son, Edward, was born in Missouri. By the time of the 1910 federal census, Martin and his four children were living in Kansas where he worked as a tailor.
Maria married and moved to British Columbia before the 1920 census, and Martin and his three boys were still in Kansas.
He moved to the Maybell area in 1921, where he filed a homestead claim on 320 acres and began work on his stone home and outbuildings. The detail needed for his tailoring easily translated to the precision of stone masonry and he was soon considered one of the best masons in the area.
Slavek (whose name was anglicized over the years), served in the U.S. Navy from June 7, 1917, until Aug. 18, 1919, before coming to Maybell. He took up a homestead south of his father's land and proved up on it in 1926, a month after his father proved his.
In 1934, Martin added another 320 acres to his homestead.
The Lukas family was well-respected in the area. Martin lived a quiet and respectable life and got along well with his neighbors.
The sons eventually moved to Denver, pursuing various careers. Martin was left alone and soon fell prey to several heart attacks that left him progressively weaker.
He was worn down emotionally as well as physically and on Sept. 29, 1944, he took his own life.
"I have done my best," were the words he left behind for his family in a note found near his body. He was buried in the Maybell Cemetery with his three sons in attendance.
Maria was not able to travel from her home in Canada.
Slavek died on July 11, 1964 — the same day his sister Maria died in Vancouver, B.C.
Brother Robert lived nearly 100 years before his death on July 6, 2000, in Denver. He had moved there in the 1940s. Edward ended up in Delta, where he died in May 1971.
The Lukas family didn't make headlines with their quiet lives, but they left a legacy of integrity and honesty that their friends and neighbors recognized and appreciated.
Today, the crumbling ruins of the buildings stand as a monument to the American dream — simple, honest and hopeful.
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at email@example.com.